I will never kill a cab driver in one of my books. I promised Preston. He was my hack yesterday, here in New York City. He was one of those taxi drivers who really make you feel good about being here: bright, funny, opinionated, knowledgeable, an excellent conversationalist. So when he asked what I do and I told him, and then he asked if I'd ever killed a cabbie in one of my books and I told him I haven't, he asked me to promise I never would. And I did.
On the other hand, the construction permit that allows the guys across the street from our hotel to rip things up and pound on them until 2:30 in the morning, then start again four and a half hours later at seven am, is not one of those things that make you feel good about being in New York City. It's one of those things that make me marvel at the fact that nearly everyone in this place is not a homicidal maniac. It's a testimony to something; hearing loss, perhaps.
I once had some upstairs neighbors in Hong Kong who decided it would be a good idea to tear up the concrete floor of their apartment at three am. With a jack hammer. I went up to talk with them. They were in a very festive mood; drinking beer, eating flattened, dried squid that they were grilling on a small hibachi in the middle of the floor they were destroying. They weren't apologetic, but they seemed understanding and they assumed I'd be the same. What else could they do? They had jobs to get to in the morning. When else were they going to be able to do the work? It took them the better part of a week. I moved into a hotel for the duration. One without construction going on across the street. Which wasn't easy to find in Hong Kong in the early 1990s. It was about half the price of this place, and the room was twice as large.
Why doesn't every tourist who comes to New York City become a homicidal maniac?
Maybe I should say, every American tourist. Europeans, Israelis, even Canadians are here in droves, gleefully spending their newly muscular Euros, Shekels and Loonies. I find it somewhat cheering to see many of them displaying the same sorts of arrogant and ignorant behavior that we Americans have been accused of for many years in foreign countries. We are not alone.
Is anyone ever alone in New York? Maybe everyone here is simply too sleep deprived to muster up the energy for homicidal mania.
We did have dinner at the Grand Central Oyster Bar last night. And it is one of my favorite restaurants in the world. And if it hadn't been pouring rain we would have walked back to the noisy hotel, and walking in New York City is one of the greatest urban treats to be had anywhere.
And in the morning you need to walk, long distances, to find a decent cup of espresso. You'd think that with all the exhaustion, the least New York could do would be to provide its denizens with readily available, high-quality caffeine. But good espresso is a rarity here. Even my coffee loving friends in New York are thankful for Starbucks. And that, frankly, is pathetic.
At least there's plenty of cigarette smoke to inhale on the sidewalks. In front of every office building there are knots of smokers, chased out of their offices and down to the pavement to indulge. I imagine a great deal of very real business transpires among the smokers. That, and perhaps skin cancer from standing around in the sunlight's glare reflected off the glass sheathed towers. It is my impression that smokers in New York look healthy - at least in the old-fashioned sense of skin with some color to it. Non-smokers tend to exhibit an office-bound pallor. They don't get outside much.
So, what is it that I'm doing here? Tonight I have my official East Coast Launch Party for GRAVE IMPORTS at Partners & Crime, one of my favorite mystery bookstores. I'm optimistic. I'm expecting as many as a dozen people to show up.
There are five Borders bookstores in Manhattan, each of which has two copies of each of my Ray Sharp books. So I've made the rounds, signing the copies at every store. What I tell myself is that by doing so, the stores will put them on more prominent display, or at least take them out of hiding, slap "Autographed by the Author" stickers on them, and so might have a marginally better chance of selling the books than they otherwise would. If they sell those four, maybe they'll order four more, or even more than that. If that works, and I could somehow do it at a thousand stores or more, I might have a shot at the lower reaches of some best seller list somewhere.
It they can get the books, that is. I'm supposed to drop by Mysterious Books tomorrow. It's one of the best known mystery bookstores in the U.S., if not the world. They haven't been able to get ahold of any of the hardbacks of GRAVE IMPORTS. Many of their customers are collectors who want first edition hardbacks. They have a few paperbacks, is all. I'll go there anyhow, to say hi, chat with the bookstore people (something I enjoy doing in any case) and hopefully if and when they finally do manage to get some books, I might get a bit more consideration than I would otherwise.
It's a very screwy business. New York is a very screwy place. I wonder if they'd let me sleep at a Starbucks?